We typically have our thanksgiving gatherings at the end of the year. I hesitated to lead the songs this year. Could I wholeheartedly sing songs like –
you give and take away
you give and take away
my heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name?
At the sharing part, I tried to give a genuine account of our struggles and thanksgivings since mum’s diagnosis two years ago, and more specifically, about these several weeks in hospice. I felt this was quickly whisked away to a wholly different space of thanksgiving for great life and great health, not only by youths, but grown up adults as well.
“I give thanks that everything is going well in my life. I managed to do more subjects than anyone else and still somehow got A’s in everything.”
“My business is growing and my family is all healthy.”
“Life is smooth for me and when I look around, that doesn’t seem to be the case for many around me. So I’m thankful.”
“Things worked out in the last minute. God’s way is the best way.”
If you’re giving thanks to God for who he is, in good and in bad, I’ll gladly share your joy and be encouraged. But if your family is thankful for a great life, whether to God or fate, all I’m hearing is that you’re thankful that you’re not like us.
In fact, Christians who say that only good things can happen makes me question whether this religion is worth taking seriously. The reasoning is that God is good, so he will only let you prosper – in health, wealth, family etc. Is God still good when miracles don’t happen (and surely by definition miracles are rare, else we wouldn’t think of them as miracles)?
One woman said that they dreamt of mum walking beside them so her legs will be fine… despite her untreatable spinal cord compression and rapidly growing metastases that we touch and feel every day. I don’t doubt God as creator of the universe can do all things but I wish people would see that projecting their own well-intentioned hopes for her health as reality can be unhelpful.
Often at church, I get asked about how she is. The Chinese phrase for “how is she?” is literally “is she good”? To which I would reply no, she’s not good. Then they might go on to say is she getting better at least? Again I would reply no, she’s getting worse. And then there would be some muttering about how these things happen to everyone, or that it will be fine, or something.
“An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t… Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers. To some I’m worse than an embarrassment. I am a death’s head.” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I feel that underlying this “leper” treatment is more fear than simply not knowing what to say. Sickness that persists and deteriorates despite medical care and prayer is jarring to a theology of God who only allows prosperity – if it can happen to you it can happen to me and I don’t want to know about it. As Job said of his friends –
“They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed. Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid… Those at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.” – Job 6:20-21, 12:5