Rev Kathleen Wakefield
Living and Growing
I recently spoke with an intake counselor at a cancer treatment center. In addition to all the usual questions, she asked me a few others: Do I believe God has a plan for my life? Well, yes and no - or at least not in the commonly accepted idea of God's having a list and checking it twice. Do I think that when I am done with treatment, when I have "beaten" cancer, that my life will go back to normal? Not anymore.
Not anymore. At one time, I did. I would walk and think "I want my life back, I want my life back." It was my chant, my mantra, my prayer. Then one day an answer came through loud and clear: You have your life.
I was stunned, stopped in my tracks. All I could think of was that this wasn't the life I had planned, not the life I wanted. I didn't want a life of chemotherapy, and exams, and tests. I've never been much of a five-or-ten-year plan type of person, but this was certainly not how I'd envisioned my life.
It's interesting how, in all those books about managing one's life, authors never seem to talk about what to do when things are derailed by one of life's unexpected challenges or tragedies. As a friend of mine is fond of quoting, life is what happens while you're making other plans. We can move on - and hopefully we do - but life is never the same as it was before. In that sense, we don't get our lives back. We get something else - maybe better, maybe not, but certainly different.
And where is God in all of this? Some days I don't know - it all seems pretty bleak to me. I don't think that God's plan, whatever it is, involves causing wars or divorces or car accidents or cancer. God's plan is not a to-do list. I think that God's plan is that ultimately everyone and everything will be redeemed, that everything will somehow come to good, that all of creation will one day come to wholeness. How that works, I don't know, which is probably why God is God and I am not.
So if suffering is not God's plan, where is God when we suffer? I believe that God is somehow with us, even in the darkest times - perhaps especially in the darkest times of our lives. I think that we experience God and God's presence through others - that God's love comes to us most tangibly through the people who love us, through the people who are kind to us and help us, through the smiles of babies and the laughter of children, through the beauty of nature, and through the generosity of strangers. I think it is in all those things that God is most present to us and walks with us through this life. A little kindness, a smile, a little laughter go a long way.
Which brings us to our other role. We not only experience life's difficulties, we are not only the takers, but we are to be the givers as well. We are to be the tangible presence of God's love. Regardless of denomination or dogma, we are called to manifest Love to a broken and hurting world. As St. Teresa of Avila said, we are to be the hands and feet and compassion of God in the world.
We are how Love is made manifest in the world, we are how God works in the world. We can be potent forces of good or evil, love or hatred. We can be open to love or closed to it, we can extend love or not, regardless of what we are experiencing in our lives at the moment. It is our willingness to be channels of love and compassion that will bring healing to us and to the world.
The Rev. Kathleen Wakefield is pastor at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.