Treasures on Earth
I’ll be honest that the pull to check my phone daily on various e-commerce apps has been unrelenting in the past week as I look to cash in on deals for my new home. My virtual strawberry garden is much more fruitful than my poor wilting basil plants, (no) thanks to gamified coin-collecting ‘missions’ that hook vulnerable ones like me. On the other hand, much thanks to Ps Jenni’s post on our Facebook group, I have been convicted of the danger of going down a rabbit hole of ‘ _______ (fill in the blanks)-not-enough’ consumerism, especially leading up to 10-10 sales, one of frequent periods in the year that we can become easy prey in the FOMO world of online flash deals.
10-10 also reminds me of less tangible treasures that are in danger of being mindlessly de-prioritised, at the pursuit of possessions that moth and rust will eventually destroy. Treasures that are in the hands of every man and woman, so commonplace, but yet whose priceless value is most keenly embraced when faced with their loss -- treasures such as health and relationships.
Health is Wealth
Many advocacy groups in developed countries take steps to annually commemorate World Mental Health Day on 10th October, sometimes extending mental health awareness activities to the entire month of October (or even including September, as is the case in Singapore this year!). Particularly with the spotlight given to the importance of self-care and managing anxieties in these pandemic times, efforts to bring awareness to the church community have also been intensified.
In the past 10 months, I have also attended more wakes than in any year that I can remember. None of them were COVID-19 patients but victims of some health issue one way or another, including the inevitable deterioration and decay of the human body. This adds to the sombre reckoning that there’s just something about death that awakens us to the level ground we are all at when all is said and done.
Perhaps that’s why the loss at any funeral grips us so deeply. It’s just so… final.
This is true even for those of us who hold onto a hope and conviction that we will see our loved ones again if they died in a trusting relationship of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. The finality of not being able to relate to the deceased any longer on this side of eternity may often fill us with regrets of not having invested more time, or the open wounds of not having dealt with unresolved grievances. Relationships are really so precious, and worthwhile to invest in when we still have them in this life.
Community is Health
Indeed, I count among my treasures, my family and friends. In particular, many who have shared their emotional struggles with me and with whom I feel safe to bear mine likewise. This aspect of journeying and walking together with those who are emotionally broken has been close to my heart for many years, even as I myself am aware of my own brokenness.
But such sojourning is never easy. There's a discomfort of patiently living in that liminal space, holding tension between staying in our brokenness without immediate relief yet holding on to hope and anticipating redemption, whether on this earth or beyond. All this while grappling with losses when waiting in that space, such as a loss of freedom to move due to a debilitating disease; or a loss of ideals in a relationship when expectations cannot be met.
In his book “Spiritual Formation”, Henri Nouwen describes this mystery of a dialectical relationship between sorrow and joy, one leading to the other in a fluid manner, and that healing comes as we mourn - together. As he so beautifully puts it, “community and solidarity are at the heart of the movement from sorrow to joy. When you begin to feel the pain of your life in relation to other people's pain, you can face it together. This is where the word compassion comes from (to suffer with); that's where the word patience comes from (to suffer). To be patient is to experience the pain of your life. And when you experience it with somebody else, you can be compassionate."
“This is how the healing begins. Not by wonderful answers, not by 'do this or do that'. It starts by experiencing the powerlessness of not-knowing-what-to-do together.”
Journey of 10 Years
Back in Sep 2011, I had moved to Vancouver, Canada for two years to complete my masters course. I remember that the prevalence of suicide attempts and completed ones on my university campus got some locals reflecting deeply: people might experience Vancouver as more isolating as compared to other parts of Canada, due to the demographic of transient students and migrant families, with its associated challenges of building a cohesive, collective community in such a city.
It was there in this supposedly ‘isolating’ city that I caught my first glimpse of a beautiful tapestry of community in Jacob’s Well, where mutually transformative friendships are forged with those on the margins of society; the homeless, drug-addicts, street-walkers are but labels for some of these, many of whom also have mental health challenges that compound their difficulties. It was also in Vancouver that I attended my first Christian-based mental health workshop where I was reminded that those recovering from depression, in addition to taking medication, need people to walk with them, rather than give them pat answers from the Bible as to how to deal with their pain.
Since then, I’ve been learning to walk alongside fellow travellers who are in all sorts of emotional pain. To be okay with not having answers, and to know that presence speaks more loudly than words. To be aware that more often than not, it’s my discomfort with seeing another in pain that drives me to want to ‘fix’ the person, instead of being okay to sit with and bear with the pain together. And my desire is to have that sensitivity of the Holy Spirit to know when it's timely to speak healing and claim victory, and when it is more needed to just be a companion on the road until healing breaks forth.
May our journeys with our treasured loved ones experience this grace of a movement from Sorrow to Joy as we mourn and dance together:
"There is the broken soil of your soul where the seeds of grace can grow in you. The Spirit of God within us says: 'There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.' The Spirit of healing that makes us mourn is the same Spirit that makes us dance. The mystery of the dance is that its movements are discovered in the mourning." (Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation, p.54)