[Note: to hear the entire interview with Pamela Q Fernandes, see blog for August 17. In next week’s blog, I’ll publish Part III.]
Preparing to Face Tragedy
Pamela: Explain to people, how do you go about transforming a tragedy in your life, especially when you’re so upset, you’re broken down, and you can’t see the light ahead of you. You can’t see God’s grace, nothing. So how do you transform that tragedy in your life?
Gordon: There are some things that we can do, some practical things we can do to prepare ourselves. And then I’ll answer the idea of transforming. For one thing, attend funerals. Somebody in your life dies, go to their memorial service. Go to their funeral. Go to the visiting hours, if there’s visiting of the body. This is something which we tend to avoid. And we console ourselves with, “I want to remember them as they were. I don’t wanna see them dead.” But we have…and I grew up, my early days in ministry which I performed and attended many funerals. They were dead, they were in a casket in front of the church. And, yeah, it is painful, but that is something that a person can do because that’s part of life.
Visit the dying. You know somebody is critically ill, go to them in the hospital. Visit them at home. Kübler-Ross wrote a very important book on death and dying in ’60s and ’70s. And she says this, “When we care for the dying, they give us a gift.” The gift is the ability to accept your own death. So visit the dying and the critically ill. Listening to others’ pain is something that we can do, too. Ordinarily, we change the subject. Somebody starts to choke up and grieve over the loss of a loved one and we want to cheer them up. Instead, what we can do is learn to listen to their pain, and say, “Honey, just talk to me. And I’m just gonna sit here and listen.” You don’t have to raise their loved one from the dead in order to comfort them, to help them. You do need to show that you care, and that you understand what they’re going through at least. So those are some things that we can do to prepare for our own tragedies when we depend on other people to come and support us.
Transforming Tragedy: Perspective
Now, you mentioned about transforming tragedies. Tragedy usually leaves us different than when we began the experience. Some people go down into bitterness because of what’s happened. And some people blame God, it’s a major source of atheism. “If God can allow children to die of cancer, I can’t believe in that kind of a God.” So they become very bitter and irreligious and reject a God who’s worshiped because of the suffering that people go through.
On the other hand, a lot of people, after they go through suffering, are transformed into a greater trust in God. And Job was bitter for much of his book. His anger is palpable. He is just inconsolable, and the friends try and they try to reason with him and nothing works. I think Job is a good example of transformation because he comes to a new perspective on life. I mentioned earlier the struggle with control over life, and this was the import of the Lord’s message to Job at the end of the book, in which He confronts him with nature, with the clouds, with the rain, with ice, and snow, over which we have no control. He confronts Job with the animals who give birth and who die, and they are not in man’s purview. They are completely apart from human beings. They have nothing to do with the city in which we live. And yet they live and they die. Learning that perspective, you know, we are divinely created but we’re also human and part of the natural world as well.
And then of course, there were the two huge chaos monsters over which Job has no control. Human beings have no control of Behemoth and Leviathan. Reading Job with understanding can help to transform us through perspective that we begin to see our frailty, accept it, and then gain perspective. Leading the lives of Godly people can be a help to transform our own suffering. Bible characters who endured great difficulties and overcame them, faced difficult circumstances, with a positive attitude that they had to learn can be positive models for us.
And then I would say social support. We need people. We cannot go through a tragedy on our own without people to talk to, to listen to us, people who understand, who care about us. And this was, in fact Job’s experience, because he had three friends who didn’t understand everything, but who never left him. And so he was able to find them at the beginning, and yet they were there at the end as well, as was his wife. So he had social support of those who listened to all of the ups and downs of his complaints, chapter after chapter.
And so I think social support is quite important: friends, family, church, small groups, neighbors. We have to learn to live with a new normal; the person is gone, or we’ve lost our home, I’ve lost my job. And so it takes time, and it takes support from others, and it may take some personal growth, inside as well, we are social creatures. I’ve been noticing how much horses are social creatures. And they kind of race together, you know, we got five or six horses and we have some not too far from where I live, you see them and they keep an eye on each other and they feel comfortable being close with one another.
Pamela: And I think this is very important because in today’s world, people have just isolated themselves. In the sense they’re with their social media, or they’re with Facebook, or they’re with Twitter, but they have no real, you know, connections. So a lot of people are depressed, a lot of people are dealing with their own tragedies where they’re not seeking the comfort of their churches, or the social support. So I think social support is really something that people should look at more carefully.
Gordon: That’s a very good point. I’ve went to the mall a few months ago, and there’s a young man and this young woman were holding hands, and he was on his cell phone texting. So that really got me: someone truly was focused elsewhere.