There’s something I need to say.
Fr James Lyons
I was taught that you are loving, compassionate and merciful, that you create only goodness and that you want nothing but the best for us. Right now none of this makes sense to me.
Someone I love is dying? That someone is my dad.
My dad is not just any person. He’s the one person who, with my mum, gave me life. How can someone with so much life to give, not have enough life to keep living himself?
I feel angry when I think about it. It’s not fair! My kind and generous dad deserves better than this. He’s given so much of himself in giving life to me, that he should be able to enjoy a full and rich life for many years to come. This sickness has no right to invade his body, or our family. It’s a violation of everything we hold sacred, and threatens to destroy the fabric into which our family life is woven. I’m mad as hell!
I’m also feeling cheated. I’m not so old that I don’t still need a dad. He was there in my little years but I didn’t notice him so well then. I’m just getting to appreciate him, to understand him, and to have the confidence to talk to him about anything. I’m not quite there, yet, but I know there’s going to be so much I want to share with him, and so much I want him to see in my life – now none of that’s going to happen. Why am I being cheated this way? Why is Dad being cheated? It’s not as if we’ve done anything wrong that you should be punishing us. Are you just playing with us? Do you like hurting people? Are you some kind of sick sadist who just pretends to love?
We’ve just been through the Holy Week drama with the crucifixion of Jesus. He taught forgiveness and he healed so many people. But he was the victim of hate and fear, and died abandoned by those he’d trusted with his love. I know we also celebrated his resurrection, but I’m not sure I know what that means. His suffering and dying seem far more real and it’s certainly where I’m at, at the moment. Can you help me through it?
Yes, I’m listening.
I’ve heard you. But what can I say?
It’s not enough to tell you I understand, and if I start telling you not to worry, or to trust me, or to wait till you’re older when things will look different, you’ll completely explode. Those kinds of responses are never helpful. They’re turn-offs and lead to bitterness and resentment; they don’t ease pain, they only make it worse.
You want me to do something. But I don’t do anything. I just am. That’s not an excuse for what’s going on in your life; it’s who I am! Can I explain that? Let’s see.
The best definition I’ve heard of myself is God is love. John the evangelist wrote it after years of reflection and a great deal of personal suffering. He was very close to Jesus and saw Jesus’ life as the fullest expression of love he’d ever known. Jesus commanded all his followers to love one another as I have loved you and showed them there was no greater love than to give your life for your friend.
At its core, love is painful, for it is constantly giving of itself – creating and letting go. You cannot hold on to those you love. Not if you really love them. Love frees, and rejoices in that freedom, even though freedom always brings a cost. That’s what the story of Jesus is all about. From Bethlehem to Calvary – from the cradle to the grave – there is for everyone, a path of opportunities to understand life as a journey to wholeness. The setbacks, the heartaches, the cruel twists of fate, are not part of my gift; they come with your freedom and, like the cross of Jesus, they can become gateways to a richer, fuller life.
You tell me your Dad is dying. You are angry and feel cheated. Isn’t this your love at work? If you didn’t love your dad you wouldn’t worry what happened to him. If you didn’t love yourself you’d have no way of loving anyone else and you’d be numb to any feelings of concern.
So your anger and feeling cheated are tied to your love. You’ll give them their freedom when you’re ready, but right now the hurt you feel is the measure of your love. You won’t see it that way because this is a time of confusion and mixed messages. This is a new experience for the whole family and even your mum and dad are struggling to understand it.
Remember this: Your dad loves you with an enormous pride. It’s an image of my love for you, and for everyone. Let him share his love with you now, and you share yours with him. Too many people never get this opportunity. In the sharing you’ll find a peace undreamed of.
The apostle, Paul, who also suffered on my behalf, identified all the qualities that give love its power. I’m sure you know them from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13: ‘love is patient and kind and not jealous; always ready to excuse, to hope, to endure … love does not come to an end.’ This is who I am. My being is the free, wonderful, all-consuming, demanding, complex, mysterious and never-ending thing called love.
Only those who suffer ever really come to know me, for love and suffering are the head and tails of the coinage of heaven.
Keep talking to me. I really do listen.