"My son died last week." It was the end of our routine health screening, and as me and my partner Natasha had been trained in SMI, we asked our patient if we could pray for anything for her. I remember her upbeat voice, her boisterous personality, her laughter come crumbling down. This woman, who through her general appearance and demeanor who I had pre-judged to be pretty happy was in fact recently broken on the inside.
Her response took me aback as I realized the child she was taking care of was not her own son, but her grandson who had recently lost his father. She had told us she had been crying for days and the kids she was taking care of had been badgering her to stop crying. I remember in the moment feeling helpless and lost. What do you do in that moment? When the suffering is so clearly present and real, what are you supposed to do? In that moment, we just listened to her as she was trying to not show emotion anymore in front of the children she was taking care of.
I remember praying for her in that moment, holding Philippians 4:6 on my heart which states: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." We prayed for peace from her suffering and for God to just rest with her. We prayed for a church community that would come and support her. And although she thanked us as we were leaving, I still felt unrest. Did we actually do anything? Was her pain alleviated? As far as I was concerned, the pain from losing her son was very much still on her heart and I felt very worthless in that moment. Although we were complete strangers, she was very willing to pour out her heart to us.
But it's funny how the Spirit moves. Two weeks prior, I and a different partner (Jasmin) had come into contact with a woman of faith who had been struggling to support her broken family. She had broken down and told us about her ex-husband who had run away, her current financial troubles and her struggles with her current boyfriend. I remember my heart moving and breaking as she was telling us this. She was trying so hard to be a good mom to her children. Her daughter was one of the most behaved children I had seen in a while. And as she was speaking, I could feel the desperation in her voice as the strong front she was trying to project was breaking down around her. Jasmin and I continued to pray for her in the coming weeks as she affected both our hearts.
Today, as I was struggling with the idea of suffering, I felt as if God answered my prayers. As we were about to go on another day of outreach, I forgot some papers to bring along and was about to go run into the supply room. As I was about to enter the building, a woman shouted for me to come over. As I looked over, it was the very same woman who we had been praying for for the past 2 weeks. She had been enrolling her daughter in a youth program at the church where we have been staying. I called Jasmin over and we started talking about how she had been praying and seeing our faces in the midst of suffering and telling us about the programs she had been applying to for her financial troubles. As she hugged us over and over again, I began realizing God does all in his own time. It was an offering of hope, that the outreach we had done was not worthless and that sometimes, listening is all someone needs to feel hope.
I'm reminded of how God redeems all in the end. In Revelation 21:1, it says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." I am still not sure what to do with suffering now. But the things we do on this Earth matters. And God is coming soon to redeem this world and to renew it all. That's all I can ask for.