I sent my son to school today. For the previous eight days he had had to isolate in his room with Covid-19. He nearly escaped on day six, but we saw a faint positive stripe on his test that day, so he had to be confined to solitary for 48 more hours. See the joy on his face as he sets off, knowing that the first lesson is PE.
During this last week my emotions as a mum steered naturally toward disappointment and frustration. Missed clubs and hugs and time together. Far too much time for the boy watching YouTube and playing computer games, before a last-minute scramble to catch up on school work, much of which needed me loitering in the hallway explaining or translating.
But there were positives to be spotted too, and not just the annoying kind on a stick that send you to your room for two more days. Battling depression has taught me to look for the positives frequently, in order not to get overwhelmed by missed opportunities and disappointments. I was utterly aware that Joe’s experience of Covid-19, being particularly mild, was a blessing in disguise. The rest of the household are fully vaccinated (he is not yet old enough), but hopefully he’ll now have a measure of immunity for a time. We have the resources here in our home to isolate him, to feed him and provide him with all he needed, as well as enjoy a few treats such as homemade cake or a takeaway to lift all our spirits. One of our family traditions is Pop Tart Week. The last week in any half term when everyone’s stamina is usually waning is the best time for a fun breakfast week. Joe lit up when I brought him breakfast on Monday, having forgotten all about it. I heartily recommend occasional fun breakfast weeks!
There were other positives too. The timing was really not so bad for us and no major events had to be cancelled. Joseph was very grateful for all our efforts and enjoyed playing battleships (shouting across rooms) and listening to his bedtime story from a distance. The really lovely thing was when he and his best friend made up, having fallen out quite seriously a few months back. Who would have thought that they would both be ill at the same time? They played a few games together online and discussed plans for future careers (currently Joe is interested in the idea of being an aviation engineer for MAF). Having more time and attention for my daughter has also proven valuable and she has appreciated family meals with just mum and dad. We have gelled as a team over this time and had to reconsider each other more closely, including food needs, washing, bathroom use, wellbeing and emotional support.
I am grateful for the positives and the way this played out did get me thinking significantly. There are times when it is appropriate to count your blessings and recognise the good in situations which may otherwise be viewed as bad. The positive moments within the suffering. The people that come alongside, sometimes as a consequence of it. The good things going on in the wider world. Previous joys. Future hopes. However any of these things, if applied unlovingly, can be deemed cruel.
Recently a British comedian caused something of a stir when he said that one positive of the Holocaust was that thousands of Gypsies were murdered. His appeal to hatred aligned him with the perpetrators of the evil actions and mocked the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. It was selfish; he was after the buzz of the laugh. It was thoughtless and untrue; in no way were these killings positive. And this did nothing to identify any true positives relating to the grim chapter of our past. Precious positive moments such as self-sacrifice, bravery, forgiveness, contrition and lessons learned. Even these, however, cannot in any way undo the trauma and evil. (If you want to read more about how it was possible for victims of concentration camps to forgive, do read about Corrie ten Boom).
It is necessary to come alongside people who are suffering. To sit with those in pain or distress. Most of us find ourselves in this situation at one time or another. Many of us will understand the feeling that our own comforters have missed the point, rather like Job’s friends in the Old Testament. They see that he has lost everything and is in physical pain and try to blame him. I can just imagine them trying to take his scarred hands in their own, looking him closely in the eye and saying that he just needs to see the positives.
Really? Job replies, dropping his face. The positives of losing all ten of my children, all my financial security, my health, dignity and good name? The positives of not knowing what brought this on and how to restore it?
Ah yes, they suggest, clueless and tactless. You still have your wife!
He raises his head and whispers, But she wants me to die!
Ah, but your donkey-herder and shepherd and camel-herder and one other servant lived!
With no animals to tend! What are you talking about?
At this point friends who realise that they are doing more harm than good leave. Others of us plough on, preaching nonsense and not listening.
There are times when acknowledging grief and pain and lamenting with our peers is far more important than looking to find positives.
When your friends die, it stinks. Even with the hope of Heaven loss is real, physically painful often and emotionally overwhelming in recurring waves.
When Jesus turned up to Lazarus’ home four days after his friend died, he was absolutely certain of two things:
The power of resurrection.
And the pain of death.
Jesus wailed with the crowd in John 11, moved hugely at their grief and mourning at the loss of Lazarus. Of course it was not the end of the story, but it was a critical part of it. Jesus identified utterly with the distress of death and the stench of sorrow. Jesus knew how to lament honestly. He could see the negatives and react in love. This too was part of the healing for those nearby.
In verse 43, shouting (quite literally) loud enough to raise the dead, Jesus called to Lazarus to come out of the cave tomb. This was no magic trick or deception. The crowd knew what was what. Lazarus was definitely dead. And they believed they were well past the scope of miracles now.
But there was no denying the dead man walking, covered in cloth and stumbling in the light. No longer dead. No longer hopeless.
Jesus knew the pain of death in his mortal body and in identifying with mortal humans. But he also knew a deeper divine power. The positive power of resurrection was there, waiting to be witnessed, but not before the lament of the negative.
Let’s see positives, count blessings and recognise joys large and small every day we can. But let’s not forget to lament when we need to. It is right to wail over what is lost and weep over what is hurting. Some won’t understand this and will laugh. Some won’t understand how to help you and will say all the wrong things. But some will sit with you and weep. Or perhaps even shout at you from behind a door with hope and expectation.