When I was in my last semester of grad school and seminary, I got infected with a bacteria called Shigella. It’s the sickest I’ve ever been as I suffered from every symptom imaginable as it relates to the whole digestive tract. I was admitted into a hospital where it took several days to determine what I had. During those long days, I was enduring the worst kinds of pain. I remember saying to my parents, and friends who would come by briefly, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy if I had one.” It was torture. It was scary. There were tears. There were pleas to God for help. Years later, when I visit someone in the hospital or hear from someone who is fighting with similar kinds of digestive conditions, I’m transported back to February 2003 and remember my entirely painful experience.
Physical pain of this severity is not something that everyone has endured, but certainly everyone has had some kind of physical hurt, whether it be minor, major, or somewhere between. Similarly, everyone suffers mentally and emotionally from some deeper, unseen, silent hurts—small, big, or somewhere between. “Everybody hurts sometimes,” as song artist R.E.M., succinctly states.
Pandemic or no pandemic, every one of us suffers from silent hurts. Nonetheless, we need to acknowledge that the pandemic has affected many in our society, which is yet to be fully realized. “The past year has been terribly damaging to our collective mental health,” Michelle Williams, dean of Harvard Chan School, states. “There is no vaccine for mental illness. It will be months, if not years before we are fully able to grasp the scope of the mental health issues born out of this pandemic. Long after we’ve gained control of the virus, the mental health repercussions will likely continue to reverberate.”
I have humbly learned of unseen and silent hurts as a friend or family member opens up to me. In every instance, I’ve found myself with no easy answers, though certainly tempted to try to offer something as far as advice and with what I perceive as my idea of “wisdom” towards a solution. In every instance, however, I’ve learned that simply listening was what she or he needed most from me—a safe space to truly be heard and truly be seen. It’s what some call the ministry of presence.
In this Sunday’s scripture text from 1st Samuel, we will see a similar scene play out between Hannah and Eli. Hannah has a chance to pray and to explain her deep anguish as Eli listens. Eli does not have an easy, quick solution for Hannah, but he is able to be present, accept her hurting, and pray for her. “If we are ever to be people who bring peace and healing to this hurting world, we must be willing to pause and bear witness to pain—to our own and others’,” Reverend Britanny Fiscus van-Rossum, pastor of Mercy Community Church in Atlanta, says. “Like Hannah, with dignity and honesty we can embrace our stories without shame, trust that God is present and ever listening. In turn,…we can perceive and accept the pain of others, and like the God we follow, stand alongside those who suffer.”
On Sunday, all are welcome, as always, to come with theirs hurts and their joys, their prayers and their dreams.
*Note: Artwork is by Lisle Gwynn Garrity | “Seen” | Digital painting with mixed media collage