There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, Forrest Gump, where Forrest and Jenny are adults standing outside of the now-abandoned home that she was raised in. It holds horrible memories for her, and she begins to fling rocks at it. She pitches several rocks at the house before falling to the ground in tears. Forrest stands there, he is present for her. But he doesn't try to tell her not to feel bad or convince her not to cry. The statement he thinks in the moment, "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks." I've always thought that was a poignant moment in the movie. Today I think I understand Forrest's sentiment as one of bearing witness to Jenny's suffering. Without blinking.
In life, shit happens. It ain't pretty. There's not any way to dress it up or make it more presentable. The fact of the matter is that shit happens. Sometimes it happens to us, and sometimes it happens to people we love, too. And if I'm honest with myself, I don't know why shit happens, it just does at times. And if I'm really honest with myself, the not knowing of it all has always been one of those things that makes me angry with God for his silence and with myself at my own helplessness.
This week, among the normal hurting people I meet in my practice and guardian work, I've been confronted with two people I love going through horrible stuff. One's parent is hurting badly and is ill. The other is being confronted with cancer and a child who has his own health challenges. Both of these women are good people. They care for others, are loving and good folks. And the parent of my friend, he is a good guy, too. He has spent the better part of life loving and nurturing others. There is no rhyme or reason for these things to be happening to these people. They are hurting, I am at a loss for how to help. I so want to think of articulate things to say that will be comforting and helpful. I want to somehow come up with a solution or fix to the issues that are simply not able to be fixed. It just seems so cliche to say, "Gee, I'm praying for you."
And this is where Forrest comes in. All I can do in response to my friends is to offer my presence and my witness. I can be a witness to their suffering, to their strength and maybe to their love. When I was at Baptist college, I heard a lot about "witnessing" to other people. What I think was meant by this was evangelism...the idea of telling other people about Jesus. This was always a turnoff to my sensibilities. I didn't mind loving people, spending time with them, walking or talking with them...but mentioning God, Jesus or my faith because I was obligated to was not something that came naturally to me. It still doesn't.
When I talk about bearing witness in this context what I really mean is being fully present to another's suffering. Offering myself, all of who I am, to be present and faithful to this person and their pain and sorrow. This is not easy. In fact, I will venture to say it's a hell of a lot harder to bear witness to someone's pain than it is to offer a "Jesus loves you" and walk away. Bearing witness requires relationship...it requires risk. The risk of looking foolish, or not being able to find the words, the risk of rejection. It requires living in relationship to other people so that their suffering is my own... my pain is their pain as well.
I was trying to write a letter to the parent who is hurting, and all I could think to say was, "I'm sorry you're hurting." and "I love you." There are no other words. What's happening to these folks isn't fair. I have no words of wisdom that will heal them or make things better. But I can bear witness to their pain. I know that sometimes there just aren't enough rocks. And that while shit happens, sometimes joy happens. Somtimes healing happens, too. Not because I, or anyone else, found the right words, or prayed hard enough or did anything more than bear witness to suffering. And we hoped and prayed with the person hurting. And added our voices to those everywhere who are crying out for mercy and peace.
Despite all the pain I see and feel at moments, I still believe God hears us/loves us/wants our healing. That He/She is in this very moment bearing witness to our suffering, and working to bring about our healing. I am compelled to believe this because of the healing I've experienced, the healing I've watched others experience. But rather than treat faith or God or being a Christian as a passive, observation kind of sport, I have to believe faith is meant to be participatory. I cannot sit by and watch my brother suffer without hoping with him/loving him as he is/praying for his healing. I cannot help but be his witness when he cannot bear his own truth. And all I can say is I'm sorry you're hurting. Let me sit with you. Let me hold your hand. I love you.