Being a doctor in the midst of a pandemic, is a challenge. This disease is so unpredictable. You treat and hope and pray and wait and then the unexpected happens ... just when you think it is all over. The so-called "cytokine storm" is what makes the difference. Everything hinges on whether the patient's own white blood cells will start to attack healthy tissues. Up to that moment, COVID-19 is just another attack of flu, but around day eight, in a small percentage of patients, the whole picture changes and it becomes life threatening. And in spite of an array of available treatments, we just have not discovered the silver bullet to prevent this storm.
It remains a constant struggle to discover the gifts in the midst of so much confusion. insecurity and loss. But the gifts are there. If I just ask the right questions, I do discover them for new understanding is always hidden in even the most horific circumstances. If I am interested, the pain and insecurity can force me to ask the right questions and it is there that I find the wisdom and the hidden miracles.
It is a tapestry that has to be looked at from a distance so that you can see the whole picture. When you are drawn in too close; when it is a loved one that is struggling, you tend to focus on one aspect of the tapestry and are drawn into the individual stitches and roughness that is the nature of tapestries. And then you miss the gift that is hidden in the whole picture.
I stumbled on a post by Will Kautz, an internationally known artist and author that speaks about that. I decided to post it here because the whole post makes a beautiful point.
But first my own observations:
Will, when I’m grown up, I want to see suffering in the light you do and find the growth you find in pain.
But, am I willing to pay the price?
I shy away from the struggle. Like Jacob who kept on postponing the confrontation with his own brokenness until he was forced to face the God-man at the Jabbok. All alone in the night… facing the prospect of his own brother’s wrath the very next day. And Job, who had strong opinions about God and his own pain until God showed up and expanded his understanding.
The path to this kind of wisdom is different for each of us but the underlying principle is that it is possible to use the brokenness of this life to help our thinking evolve. If we are always either fleeing pain and confrontation like Jacob or fighting like Job, we just extend our journeys towards the place of surrender.
The journey is a given. Everyone is on it. The time it takes to come to surrender is the unknown factor.
And when we have survived the one journey and think we have arrived, the next journey has already started for it is through journeying in the pain that we evolve in our understanding and our love for the Unseen.
The subtle shades of love can only be introduced to us in contradiction. When we think God cannot be in this at all, we discover another aspect of Love that we have never known. Love was just missing because I have not known that shade of love. Godself is always in everything. Love is the gift I must discover.
Like Jacob, we discover the God-man who wrestles with us and gives us another name, only if we refuse to run away or to let him leave without giving us the blessing of new understanding.
But we always come out of those encounters with a limp that reminds us that this life is just a series of journeys, an exploration of the glory of Love.
And that each person is just an explorer who is on the brink of discovering a new frontier, a new continent.
And we learn that all our discoveries paint a picture of an unseen Love so great and so beautiful that it required a whole universe as its showcase.
Here is Will Kautz:
"A young man wrote to me last year to say that he had decided to end his life. He felt he had let his family down. His siblings were successful but he was failing in school and struggling with anxiety. He was also far from home in an unfamiliar culture and he just felt lost. He was in his 20s and I was in my 60s. He was Muslim and I was Christian. He was also 12,000 miles away from me. But despite these things, I felt close to him. He was so respectful and sensitive. He called me 'Mr. Will'. The more I listened to him, the more I suspected he was a square peg in a round hole. By that I mean, his parents expected him to get a business degree but his gifts were in another field.
We had some deep conversations about heartache and how to find joy in the middle of it. We kept meeting online and sharing our experiences. I eventually asked him if I could give him two assignments and told him they were simple ones. I just wanted some clarity about what his gifts were and so the first assignment was for him to take a short personality test at the Meyers/Briggs website. I told him it would be an affirming experience because after answering some questions, he would be given an idea of who he really was and how best to use his talents. I told him that it doesn’t matter if we suck at a million things. Our goal is to discover the one talent that brings us joy and to nurture it. I knew my friend excelled in music and he loved filmmaking and I suspected that he belonged in a creative profession.
I’ve often thought that our talents are like buried treasure. We don’t come with an instruction manual that tells us what they are. We’re forced to look for them. There’s a reason for this. The journey of discovery is as important as the treasure itself. On that journey we learn all kinds of things about ourselves. We learn about our weaknesses so we can understand the value of humility and grace. And in time, an inventory of talent appears that will define us and bring us joy. My new friend was eager to take the test.
His second assignment was to find someone at the very bottom of his society - someone who was treated as worthless by everyone else...and then do something loving for him. I asked him to maybe bring a meal to a homeless person and to treat the man with dignity. I asked my friend to absorb the whole moment as if the event had eternal significance and to look fully into the person’s face as if he was looking into the face of God himself.
There was a pause and then my friend said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I will do it, Mr. Will. It is my promise to you. I will do it.”
Before I tell you what happened next, I want to share something I experienced a few years after my son died. I was exhibiting at an art show in Pennsylvania when a woman approached me. We shared a few pleasantries and then she told me that she was a funeral director and our conversation meandered towards the topic of grief. I told her that before I lost my first child, no one expected great things from me but a few years after the loss, people seemed to respect everything I said. I told her I was puzzled by that.
The woman replied, “Will, people don’t respect you because you lost a child. They respect you because you’re still standing.”
I felt instantly embarrassed because I had actually been through ten years of hell and I knew I hadn’t handled things very well at first. I don’t think anyone would have complimented me on how well I was “standing" back then.
I’ve been sitting in a home all by myself for 14 years now. I spent 25 years loving a wife and raising a family. It included a hectic, but fulfilling routine of taxiing my kids everywhere, homework help, romantic weekends with my wife, sporting events, music lessons, clothes shopping, birthday parties - the whole thing. There was barely time to stop and think. Then everything came to an end. An unfaithful wife, dead kids, pain and heartache and destruction everywhere I looked. In times of despair, it’s so hard to believe that we will ever find joy again. I didn’t handle it well. When we suffer a traumatic loss, it’s like a bomb exploding in our neighborhood. We can’t think clearly and no one can really say anything to us because all we can hear is the ringing in our ears.
When I look back at how I handled my pain, I realize that I felt more insecure than when I was a teenager. It felt like I was walking on a world made of jello because nothing seemed steady. It’s hard to find your balance when everything is wobbly. Eventually I found my bearings and began to sense that I was being led to a place of beauty that is only available to broken souls.
One day I wrote a letter to myself. It contained three pieces of advice that I needed to follow if I was going to prevail...
1. You need to know who you are. You are not who cruel people say you are. Stop trying to be loved by them because they are incapable of love. Focus on your gifts. Those are the things that define you. Those are the reasons you breathe. You are Sensitive. Kind. Committed. Analytical. Devoted. Focus on who you are and forget the others. You are cherished by the ones who matter.
2. Pain isn’t meaningless. It deepens us. It can have a beautiful, redemptive, purpose in our lives if we let it. It compels us to ask the most significant questions we could ever ask. It increases our capacity to love. Without pain, we can’t learn compassion. Suffering can lead us to a place of emotional and spiritual maturity. It tells us, “It’s ok to be human. It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to be weak.” Take it all in. Let the journey work its wonders in you. Ask the big questions. Be willing to laugh at yourself when you do dumb things. Just know that this pain will bring depth, maturity, compassion, and those things will eventually lead to joy. When pain and hope make love, indecipherable things become known.
3. Give yourself to another suffering person and love them unconditionally. For me, that meant adopting a young person from Latin America. This is where healing happens. There is a verse in Isaiah 58 that says, “If my people spend themselves on behalf of the hungry, their darkness will become like the noonday sun and when they call to me, I will say, ‘Here I am.’”
These three discoveries lead us out of “the dark night of the soul.” Discover who you are. Discover the purpose of pain. Discover the joy of loving another broken person.
When my friend on the other side of the world was contemplating suicide, it was because he felt powerless. That sense of powerlessness came from not knowing yet who he truly was or that there was a treasure hidden inside him. Once he realized that he was not defined by what others expected of him but rather by who he was created to be, there was hope. After I gave him his two assignments, he later told me that he went into town and sat beside a homeless man. He took an interest in another wounded soul and began caring for someone who had been discarded. He later told me the experience had transformed him. Six months later, my friend shared one of my posts on Facebook and added, “These words saved my life.”
We all hate trauma. We hate death. We hate losing loved ones. We hate betrayal and slander. But... the very things we hate, are the things that lead us to a place of depth, purpose and maturity and in the end, we are given the desires of our hearts. Perhaps this is why Washington Irving once wrote, “There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.”"