A Symphony of Silent Suffering

by Erin Spavin

[4 minute read]

 

None of us are strangers to suffering. Globally we are experiencing the waves of collective grief as so many of our plans and expectations simply dissolve. Suffering is the great equaliser: our shared human experience. And as leaders, many of us have carried a great weight over the past eighteen months; perhaps quietly sidelining our own emotions as we have battled to pivot and innovate.

Statistically, we know we can only avoid our own suffering for so long. Pastors and leaders are reporting at frighteningly increased rates: burn out, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Yet we can still have great hope!

For months now I have been captivated by the words of Karl Rahner:

"In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we eventually learn that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished."

It is a provoking image.

Perhaps it is the creative in me that vividly imagines this orchestra. Each instrument perfectly tuned and harmonised. The expertise of the assembled musicians, shaped over years and years of pain staking commitment to hone their craft. The hum and pregnant anticipation of an audience. Seemingly, everything is ready. As the string instruments ring out their final tuning strokes and the conductor taps her baton: a heavy silence falls on the space. And then, nothing.

Empty.

Quiet.

A tangible weight of unrealised possibility.

It is a picture of suffering. Of dissatisfaction. Suffering, however, is only part of the story. Rahner’s words impact me because they stir up resounding hope.

“Unfinished.”

It is the hope that the unfinished now – will someday be made complete.

Can you hear it? Can you hear hope’s song? It stirs within us – whispering “there’s more”. Yet untasted. Yet unseen.  Everything beautiful in its time. He has written eternity in the human heart and hope thrusts us forward.  Broken made whole. Sick made well. Tears replaced by joy. Sorrow turned into dancing. Injustice replaced by deep, unending wells of mercy. The old made new.

As I have considered the endless hope we have in Jesus, I have been drawn to ponder the story of His resurrection. How did Jesus respond to the Disciples grief and shock in the days that followed His death and resurrection? Is there something for us to learn about acknowledging collective trauma, in the actions of Jesus?

The recount of activities in the days prior to Jesus’ ascension are curiously sparse. We read of merely a handful of interactions between Jesus and his friends. What I think is powerful, however, is the manner in which Jesus loves, reassures and empowers amidst their suffering.  Jesus sings hope!

Jesus chooses deep and transformative relationship and He gathers around food.

He loves the couple travelling on the road to Emmaus by gifting them with time. He reassures Peter by reinforcing their relationship through vulnerable conversation. He empowers Thomas by naming and acknowledging his doubt.

And Jesus eats with friends! He breaks bread. (Luke 24:30) He eats broiled fish. (Luke 24:42) He barbeques! (John 21:9) 

In our anxiety and tiredness, it is so tempting to retreat from others. To allow the delayed fatigue of suffering to isolate us or cause us to process our pain internally. What I see in these interactions with Jesus – is intentionality around considered community.

Jesus is inviting us into deep and life-giving relationships that empower and reassure us. Who is God drawing you to? Is there a feast that could feed your troubled soul? Let’s not allow reluctance to resolve our own pain, to silence future symphonies of hope.

Make time for a friend you can be deeply authentic with.

Enjoy intentional time around hospitality.

These are not optional extras. They are powerful strategies for leaders and pastors who wish to model Jesus.

As our communities continue to process the layers of grief associated with their constantly changing environments, the eternal good news of the hope we find in Jesus stands as a powerful counter-narrative. In Hebrews 6:19 we are reminded that “this hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” The overflow of courageous and self-aware leadership should be churches and ministries that stand as beacons of hope to a world that desperately needs to experience stability. Stability that begins in us. Stability that is anchored in King Jesus.

“Unfinished.”

As God continues to make all things new, may He transform your suffering, allowing you to hear the harmony of hope permeating the silence.