Little plants

She was from Lebanon, a woman who spoke Arabic as her native tongue, but also fluent English that you can’t fault, and in a high school in Australia she taught French. I guess a little like the backstory of someone you would expect to see in a romantic drama. “I have four children,” she said, “Sixteen, fourteen, twelve, and ten. The first two, they were conceived with IVF, and the two younger ones, naturally. They are like little plants, so precious to me, as I watch them grow,” she gestured her hands upwards with a smile, but her smile quickly dropped, “… I don’t want to die.”

“That is what we’re trying to do,” Joan replied Nora, “to control this disease as much as we can, and give you relief from symptoms, so that you can do the things you want to, for as long as we can… But with how things are going,” Joan said as she looked at the CT scan, “I don’t think I can give you five years…”

A silent gasp. “Five years? Only a minimum of five years?”

Joan bit her teeth. It wasn’t a minimum, but the opposite, rather. “…No,” Joan corrected at a lower tone, “I don’t think I can confidently say even five years…”

“Even less than five years?”

A slow nod. Silence, as what had just been told sank in.

And then she started to weep. Actually weeping. Tissues. Empathic faces from us. She continued to weep. A million confused thoughts fired in her mind.

There in between her sobs, she managed, after a while, to say out loud some of what she was thinking. “Five years…,” she said in broken sentences, “In five years, my eldest son will just be starting university. I want to help him pack, and see him off. And my daughters… I’ll never be able to see them get married?” And she starting weeping again.

Joan reached out her hand to hold Nora’s. “I have a 15 year old daughter. I think I can understand.”

“Oh, may God bless you to be able to live a full life!”

I suppose I’ve held similar conversations enough times to not feel too awkward to be sitting quietly in the room. Of course I might have used slightly different wordings, and surely I don’t have a 15 year old daughter to throw into the conversation.

But just listening in this time, I realised even more profoundly that here was someone with her heart’s desires taken away before her. She can never get them now. They are, from now on, not hers to even daydream about when she so fancies to, anymore. Not ever, forever.

I immediately thought of some of my experiences, and the experiences of my friends around me. They can’t compare with Nora’s, but at least I think I can relate a little, and I think the underlying issue might be similar. Also, what are we assigning saviour-like attributes to?

Recently I met up with a friend who had completed university several years ago, who is getting older, but still unable to find a stable, proper job. Imagine his suffering in this current modern society. And another friend who had broken up only recently with his long-time girlfriend. He had “I’m so hurting” written all over him. And a couple who has had a miscarriage. They were grieving over a lost one that could have been. Flowers from their friends and family graced their kitchen and living room. (I will understand if you conclude that you would rather avoid being my friend lest some misfortune befalls you!)

More and more I am convinced that it is crucial to develop a proper, correct theology of suffering, now. And I wish, somewhere in my subconscious too I suppose, that I could do more of standing by people and say, “It’s okay, I’m here with you,” as Jesus did and does.

13 responses to this post

  1. Winnie
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    Have you read the Cross of Christ? I think the last chapter on “suffering and glory” lays out some good points with regards to how we can view suffering in light of the cross (it also happens to be the most readable chapter of the book haha). Although books that look at suffering in such a methodical way are probably most effective in the absence of the acute suffering that some of these people are going through…

    • // reply // #

      Yeah I have……… I remember that chapter well too, as I was reading it I was honestly thinking it is among the best stuff I’ve read (well the whole book is superb). I think I’ve read that chapter twice since, and probably half of that chapter is underlined and marked with exclamation marks. I agree too that talking about these things to people acutely sufferingly is probably not the best way to love them.

  2. yi ning
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    would be interested to hear more about the theology of suffering… and… how best to address (or love) people who are not only suffering from the difficult circumstances but more from the distresses that came with “improper” views on suffering?

    • // reply // #

      Hi Yi Ning… Not sure how much I can offer, but I’ll start with this one from my church which is simple and approachable (and posted only a day after I posted this entry of mine!). I personally have found Carson’s “6 Pillars of a Christian View on Suffering” lecture extremely helpful in the past (there’s an audio version on the TGC podcast). There is also a free e-book called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God on Desiring God (which I haven’t finished reading). Those are the free ones off my head haha — already much to digest!

      There are lots of books written on this as I’m sure you’d know — whether specifically or not (I am reading Tozer at the moment and have gained much encouragement and comfort too). I think Carson’s book (“How Long, O Lord?”) has a chapter specifically discussing your second question – about pastoral implications (I don’t have the book). But I think having walked through suffering ourselves really allows us to live out 2 Co 1:3-5 too. …Not sure if these help.

      • yi ning
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        Thank you for putting together such a good collection. why so humble about what you have to offer? :P am in fact thinking of getting the book for the chapter you recommended in need of some tips for my day to day work. I often found myself more than a little helpless reviewing terminal patients who were angry, suicidal, and crying out in exasperation “why me?”–some of those claimed to have had strong faith before cancer happened. Or the patient and family convicted about (and more or less demanded) a miracle cure as anything less would be in absolute contrary to the promises they hold dear from Jeremiah 29:11. what to say to these people? >.<
        I don't imagine witnessing such suffering would be unfamiliar territories for you. not sure if you may have any more experiences/insights to share? :)

        • // // #

          Well yeah I sort of deal with these things pretty much everyday (by God’s grace)… but have so much more to learn too. Let me know how the book is if you do in fact end up buying (and reading) it!

  3. // reply // #

    Addit: Came across this on my daily reading which I hadn’t noticed before: “Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants…” (Ps 144:12)

  4. yi ning
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    got the book and took it on my holiday. :D slowly going through it still but very good~~~ scriptural and logical, with lots of honesty and common sense too. really loved its take on “piously letting God off the hook”. thx again for the recommendation Joseph!

    • // reply // #

      That’s great! Maybe I should get it and read it one day too (too many on my to-read list at the moment). Hopefully you’ll find it helpful in ministering to others, and that the thoughts in the book might come helpful personally one day too… Merry Christmas too :)

      • yi ning
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        Merry Christmas. :)

  5. Anonymous
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    Hi, I am deeply grateful for the introduction to John Stott’s ‘Cross of Christ’ through this conversation–thank you! Started with the initial chapters of the book, but I wasn’t reading fast enough to get to the chapter on suffering and glory, so I skipped right to it. (But it is time to tackle the skipped portions which will probably add extra weight to what comes at the end! ><") It has certainly provided a growing awareness on how Christ's suffering on the cross is related to the trials and difficulties we go through here as we run the race towards our eternal home by His grace, and indeed how His suffering for us makes our suffering more manageable. I agree that this is perhaps not what we say to those suffering around us. But in choosing to relate to those around us as they suffer, to meet needs and do what matters here and now, perhaps seems a good way to stand by them. And it sure helps in taking off the focus from difficulties/suffering we face in our own lives. I remember Jesus' compassion to the widow in Luke 7.

    • // reply // #

      Hi Ruth, thanks for the comment. It wasn’t me who brought up the Cross of Christ in this thread so Winnie can take the credit. Glad you find the book helpful. Thank God for the people who have taken much care and effort to think, pray and work through these things and skilfully write them out for our benefit. May our faith and knowledge of Him continue to be built upon truths, for our benefit and for His glory.

      Happy new year too! I hope you will find the new year serve you and your family well, in God’s absolute sovereignty and goodness.

      • Ruth
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        Thanks for pointing that out, Joseph.
        Thank you Winnie, for bringing up the book in this thread. :)
        That’s a very earnest and thoughtful perspective on these authors and why we read them…agreed. Happy new year to you too! May you continue to know His love and grace deeper each day.

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