Yesterday I listened to a short video of Barbara Brown Taylor talking about suffering (check it out on my Facebook or on the Huffington Post.) During this talk she said that she believes that “What comes to you is for you” and as she also said “That is a faith statement.” At first I was aversive to this idea because it sounded to me that it could be used (she was not, by the way) as a justification of all kinds of pain and suffering until the rubric of “you deserved it” like the so-called friends in the Book of Job told him and like so many victims of abuse are told. But the more that I thought about the phrase “What comes to you is for you” the more it resonated with me and the more I heard it echo in small and larger ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. Because really I do not think that any of “deserve it” but I do know that “it” comes to all of us and when it arrives, it is for us to do with as we might.
Here is a small and silly but true story of something/someone coming to me and ending up being for me. About 4.5 years ago now our family decided to get a dog. Our aging standard poodle Ruby had died after a long and bouncy life and our grown daughter was bereft. “We need to get a dog” was the chant for about a year. By the way, I am not really a dog person but over the past 30 years dogs have come into my life. So we searched out another poodle, because Dorrie and I are both allergic to most dogs, and we found Teddy (previously named Rudy but that was too close for comfort so we named him Teddy.) He was 6 months old, had not been trained, but had a sweet personality and like our previous poodle, was “bouncy” but this puppy was bouncy and strong, very strong. Teddy was coming to our home but I was happy to back off and say that he was not coming to me. And then, within days, Dorrie had carpel tunnel surgery on her hand and could not handle a strong and bouncy untrained dog, and Lillian thought he was not at all like old and gentle Ruby so she backed off and I realized that we could send him back or I could step up and take him on. You may guess the end of this story. What came to me ended up being for me. And now he is 5 years old, is still bouncy and strong-minded and not so easy to handle when he is excited and he has just moved up to the parsonage with me. What comes to you is for you.
Of course Barbara Brown Taylor was not talking about dogs landing on the doorstep of your heart, but about suffering. Suffering comes to all of us, in small amounts for some and in bucket loads for others. We can avoid it but it is a rare person that does not have it come to them. I agree with Taylor that pain and suffering not only comes to us but is for us because it comes to our door with our name on it and we then we are changed/transformed, by the pain and suffering itself and also by how we address it, cope with it, accept it, or as Taylor says “breathe with it.” When Teddy came to me and I was called into service, it turned out that it was for me, for me to accept and take him on as fully as he needed, or to reject him and to send him packing to the pound.
O God be with me when pain and suffering comes to me. Help me to decipher if it is really for me and if it is, help me to be with it in a way that does not cripple me but that deepens me. Coach me when I do not know the first thing about how to handle this pain and remind me yes, that it may be for me, but that I am not alone in receiving it. Stand with me and strengthen me so that I can recognize what this suffering is leading me to be or to do. What comes to me is for me, but I am not alone in my suffering. This is a faith statement. Amen